This decision is a key step forward for the UNHRC; it elevates the right to privacy to the priority level that the Human Rights Council ascribes to most other human rights. Most importantly, it gives the right to privacy the international recognition and protection it deserves.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council who serve in a personal capacity and are mandated to report on human rights. They are not UN staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate-holders is essential for the UN to impartially fulfill its functions.
This particular special rapporteur position will be appointed in June. They will play a crucial role in developing common understandings and furthering a considered and substantive interpretation of the right to privacy in a variety of settings. They will be responsible for carrying out systematic analyses, research, and monitoring the right to privacy across the world. The special rapporteur will also play a role in providing much-needed guidance to states and companies on its interpretation of the right to privacy. They will amass input from all relevant stakeholders to ensure a coherent and complementary approach to the interaction between privacy and other fundamental freedoms is developed. They will report to the UNHRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on alleged privacy violations, wherever they may occur, including challenges arising from new technologies. They will draw attention to situations of particular concern and submit an annual report to the UNHRC and the General Assembly.
The UNHRC’s resolution is indeed a positive step toward ensuring the global protection of the right to privacy, but it is only a first step, and it will not alone prevent countries from conducting mass surveillance practices. Now the onus rests on all of us to bring local unchecked surveillance cases to the attention of the new special rapporteur and ensure that the new rapporteur is knowledgeable on privacy and data protection, technology, and human rights.